Meadows of Fantasy



"THE MALE SEX may be dominant in fandom -- as it is everywhere else," declared Mine as she deftly shelled another hard-boiled egg. "But I think there can be no question that the female sex is the superior one."

"I don't know, Mine," said Dave as he sat and watched her. "I'd say that allowing for the difference in numbers, we're much of a muchness."

"So why am I making these sandwiches, rather than you?" Mine retorted.

"Huh? Because you volunteered, I suppose. Why else?"

"Supposing I hadn't volunteered? What then?"

Dave glanced at Cynthia. "Well -- er -- somebody would have. I suppose. Somebody always does."

"And her name's usually Mine," Cynthia put in slyly, the ambiguity of such usage having long ceased to cause them any bother.

"What are you trying to get at?" Dave asked.

"Look," said Mine, warming to her theme. "For a male to be recognised as a good all-round BNF, he has to be able to do certain things. He must be able to think and speak fairly sensibly. He must be able to talk and write passably good English. He must be able to help run a duplicator, a club or a convention as and when necessary. Efficiently, I mean. So far so good. A female, on the other hand, who wishes to attain equivalent status must be able to do all these things as well as the male can. And -- in addition -- she must be able and willing to drop everything at any given moment and perform with equal efficiency any normal household-type chore such as cooking or mending clothes. Which makes her, if she can measure up to the double-standard, the superior sex. Er -- no applause, please. Now if somebody would pass that other pat of butter..."

Dave considered for a moment. "Ye-es," he conceded with reluctance. "But then, there are things that men do that women can't -- normally."

"OK -- name one thing that you can do that I can't," Mine shot at him.

:"Shave," Dave shot straight back at her, and the conversation broke up in laughter in which even Mine had to join. When the laughter had subsided a bit, she continued:

"You may say that you know how to classify library books. Fair enough. I, on the other hand, know how to instil the rudiments of literacy into your future customers -- which is just as technical and at least as important. Dave, I'm sorry to have to say this --" (not that she sounded it in the least) "-- but compared to me -- I -- you're only a second-class fan."

"I think," Owen put in, "that it's all a Ghastly Plot to boost the female ego at our expense. Though here's a thing though -- if what Mine says is true, it could help explain why there are comparatively few females in fandom, and yet the ones that we do have are usually top-grade. Present company excepted of course." There was another interruption while Cynthia hit him. "The mediocre male has only to do fannish things -- write, talk, administer -- within his limits. The mediocre female can do these things equally well -- but not if she's expected to do woman's work at the same time. So the few who survive are the cream of the crop -- shut up, Cynth, I'm being serious for once. Anyway, Mine -- speaking as one who's made the grade --" ("Curtsey to the nice gentleman" from Cynthia) "--how do you feel about your position -- as opposed to ours?"

"That's a tall order," Mine admitted. "I don't, a lot of the time. I suppose I simply accept it as part of the general disadvantage to being a woman. I tend to resent it at times -- but that's pretty pointless, so I try not to, and console myself that I can occasionally dodge out of getting my hands dirty or something. And then at the other extreme, I often feel a fierce pride that I can face the challenge that has been thrown at me -- a challenge that would be irrelevant to a man -- and beat it."

Silence ensued briefly while the others digested this. Then: "Help!" said Dave. "I feel I've just been sat on."

"Never mind, Mine," Owen offered. "Even if you are a certificated superman, we still love you."

Cynthia looked thoughtful but said nothing.

"By the way," Dave changed the subject. "I had a letter from Wal Elliford yesterday. He suggests I ought to stand for TAFF -- trying to drum up a slate."

"You going to?" asked Owen.

"Highly doubtful. I don't think I'm well-enough known or anything. Theo, now..."

He tailed off, for inadvertently he had touched on a sore point. Mine and Theo were no longer Like That. Earlier that year, just at the end of the Easter holidays before Mine's school reopened for the summer, the two of them had gone away for a camping holiday together. By the time Mine returned to Thisbury, it was apparently all over between them. She was supremely uncommunicative on the subject, her sole pronouncement on the matter having been to absolve Theo from any suspicions of having done or attempted anything unforgiveable. But precisely what had happened was a matter that neither she nor Theo would reveal. Theo was still on good terms with Thisbury fandom -- several of them (not Mine though) had in fact spent a recent week-end in Much Wenlock. Harry the Second had formed one of the party, which took care of all their transportation problems. For once in a way he had brought no girl-friend with him -- "resting between engagements" was Cynthia's somewhat inapposite description of the un-Harry-the-Second-like situation, which had however reverted to normalcy by the week-end following.

Whatever had happened, though, it had clearly hurt both of those involved, and the others had tacitly avoided referring to Theo when Mine was around. However, she grinned bravely.

"He's one of the few really first-class potential candidates we have left," she declared with heat. "I'd love to see him make the trip -- though he won't, of course, because it'd mean leaving Barker behind. Even so, Dave -- you're not all that much of a neo now, and I think Walford the Elect had a good point. Why don't you?"

"Why don't you?" countered Dave. "Particularly with you belonging to the superior sex and all."

"You're better-known than I am."

"Only because I'm the nominal editor of SON OF THE TURTLE. You contribute just as much to it in one way and another, and also to fandom in general. I think you'd go over well, too."

"And it might help to restore to me the happy laughing girlhood I once had, perhaps? No, skip it -- that wasn't fair of me. I do appreciate you lot -- more than you might think. And give me two or three years, I might even consider running for TAFF at that."

"I'll sign your nomination like a shot," said Dave.

"Tracer, of course," contributed Bert as he clattered down the ladder with Ian. "What's this -- grub still not up? Never mind -- it's the early grub that gets caught by the early bird."

"Bird lives!" Ian intoned in his turn.

"Hello, you two," said Owen. "Where've you been all my life? And while you're here -- meet Superman." He gestured towards Mine. "She can prove it, too."

"Oh?" Ian asked blandly. "Where d'you change into your red coms, Mine?"

"In the kitchen," Cynthia answered for her. "Any sign of Harry's van up there yet?"

Three sharp blasts of horn chose that precise moment to announce the van's arrival.

"No," said Ian, still poker-faced. "We didn't see it anywhere."

Russ Harbottle and his Jean were still to arrive, but they rolled up not long afterwards, by which time the commissariat had caught up with the front line and all was ready for departure. It was a hot summer Sunday, and the Thisbury and District Science Fiction Circle had arranged to borrow two rowing-boats from the Sea Scouts for the day. The Sea Scouts themselves were off on some sort of route-march, their new skipper having a somewhat broader view of their curriculum than had Mr. Horton. To start with, the fans arranged themselves in two equal boatloads. Their plan was to row upstream for a suitable time, then stop for lunch. Lunch having been duly consumed, those who wanted to lie in the sun or the shade could do so whilst those who wished to explore even further upstream would take one of the boats and carry on rowing. The two parties might meet again on the way down, or they might not -- there was no hard-and-fast arrangement.

The Nullgray Mouser watched them embark. He -- for he was definitely a he, and fully functional at that -- even followed them on to the scouts' barge -- but no further. He waved his handsome tail in disdain as the two boats pulled away on to the bosom of the river. He'd never quite been able to make up his mind about these humans. Oh, he liked them OK as people. But all this constant rushing around they did, seldom remaining aboard the Turtle for more than two or three hours at a time -- almost as bad as dogs they were, honestly. And with these and similar thoughts in his mind he walked sedately back along the bank to his own craft and curled up on the cabin roof to enjoy the sunshine.

Meanwhile, back at the expeditionary flotilla:

"And so," Dave improvised, "the little squadron set sail on the top of the tide. By the way -- is this boat mine, Mine, or yours, or what? Master David's flagship? Or Helmine's state barge? Or are both of them guests of the Observers of the Deep? Or perhaps..."

"Shut up and row," said Harry the Second.


Both Mine and Cynthia liked rowing, and demonstrated their equality -- if not their superiority -- by taking their turn with the males on the two pairs of oars that each craft possessed. Jean and Harry's partner-of-the-moment )who was also named Jean) were stationed permanently at the two steering-positions, and sometimes even remembered to try to steer. Indeed, Russ's Jean once tried a few minutes at the oars, but soon gave it up because she was afraid of blisters and the only available pair of gloves (Mine's) was in the other boat. Nobody tried to over-exert themselves, and with the aid of frequent and copious draughts from numerous bottles that had with admierable foresight been incorporated in the cargo they made pretty good time upstream. It had been decided, after much vocal inter-vessel communication, that they were indeed embarked as guests of the Observers of the Deep, in order to investigate an archipelago that had recently been approaching home waters. They were in their Minnish identities for the occasion -- Queen Helmine, Baron Pordave, Secretary Iano, and so on. And Harry the Second, who thought it all a lot of nonsense anyway despite his constantly being "written-in", shrugged his shoulders and winked at his Jean.

"At length," said Mine as they hovered off a secluded stretch of accessible bank, "the squadron hove in sight of land. Or vice versa -- I forget which. The shipmasters consulted together, then side by side the vessels coasted along searching for a suitable landfall." She raised her voice. "'Anchors aweigh!' called the commodore." In the other boat, Owen and Russ looked at each other, then with one accord they promptly grabbed Cynthia and unceremoniously dumped her into the water. And thus landfall was duly made.

No harm was done, of course, Cynthia already being clad in nothing much more than shorts and a top, and presently most of them were in the water with her. And after that it was time for a hearty lunch, augmented by further copious supplies of assorted water-cooled beverages. Then, replete, they relaxed in the sun for a while, idly chatting now and again as something worth saying crossed somebody's mind. Harry the Second was the first to arouse himself.

"I feel like a stroll," he announced. "Coming, Jean?"

"Yes," said both Jeans together. Russ grabbed his by the arm and pulled her down again beside him. "Not the weather for a pair of Jeans," said Bert as Harry and Harry's Jean sauntered off looking entirely unconcerned. But the calm had been broken.

"Right," said Owen. "Who's coming further up-river?"

"Me, I suppose," Cynthia offered as the shrew another small stone into the water with another equally small plop. "Someone's got to show an example to these old fogeys."

"Might as well, I suppose," said Mine. "Help to keep the youngsters out of mischief."

"If that's where all the spare talent is going," said Ian, "I guess you'd better count me in."

"Oh, I'll come," Dave put in. "Come on, Bert -- let's all go and leave these snogging couples in peace." So pausing only to divide the remainder of the provisions -- with the lion's share of potable liquids accruing to those who had chosen the more energetic part -- the six of them once again embarked. Bert and Owen took the oars, the two girls crowded together on the seat in the stern, and they pushed on upstream.

By and by they came to a lock. There being six of them, they portaged around it and carried on. It was now mid-afternoon, and the sun blazed down upon them with all it had. Dave and Mine were at the oars now, while Owen operated the steering-ropes and Cynthia, beside him, trailed her fingers idly in the water. Dave rested his oars for a moment and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

"Now mop mine," said Mine. Dave turned to comply, but Ian had got there first.

"I feel ready for another dip," Dave announced. "Let's make landfall again."

"Are you sure there's nobody watching?" asked Bert.

"Whyever shouldn't there be?" Mine wondered.

"Because the Observers of the Dip might not like it."

"Oh, boo," said Mine. "Anyway, though, I think we have gone about far enough for today."

"It's a shame," declared Cynthia. "It's always more exciting round the next bend -- that's half the fun of boating."

But there's always another next bend round the next bend, too, and they pulled in to a shady spot and tied up to a sapling. Cynthia was first overboard again -- but under her own steam this time. The others followed briskly. They all still wore their swimming-costumes, and it was merely a question of throwing off the odd shirt or whatever and immersing themselves. Cynthia and Owen -- who were both lively swimmers -- chased each other across to the opposite bank and back. At last everybody climbed out, spread their towels to lie on, and lay half in shade, half in sunshine, fanning themselves with fronds of bracken to keep the flies off.

"I wish we could take a week of this," Mine mused. "Carry on upstream all the time -- always wanting to see what lay round the next bend, as Cynth says. In this weather it'd be just about perfect, too. A couple of tents to sleep in'd be all we'd need -- one for me and Cynth, one for the rest of you, you lecherous louts. Though to even things out, I suppose we could tolerate some responsible male suitably sleeping-bagged sharing our shelter -- after all, we'd outnumber him two to one. Oh, this is delicious." She wriggled sensuously under the caress of the brilliant sunshine. "Trouble is," she continued thoughtfully, "it wouldn't last all week. We're lucky if we get a fine day-off like this per year."

"That's one thing we've never got round to planning yet, is it," said Dave. "A joint holiday, I mean. It's something we can think about -- perhaps we could try it next year. As many of us six as could manage to synchronise, plus anybody else who seemed indicated."

"Talking about anybody else," said Cynthia, "here they are. Listen."

They listened. Somebody else was indeed coming -- and making plenty of noise about it, too, by means of both foot and mouth. "Water," said the mouth, as the feet pushed aside or trampled whatever lay athwart in their passage. "There must be water. This time it must go right. I have the Gift -- I knew it -- I feel water..."

Dave looked at Mine. Mine looked at Cynthia. Cynthia looked at Ian. They all looked at each other in turn, swivelling towards the source of the disturbance. "Haven't we been here..." somebody murmured and left it hanging. And straight towards them came a woman that they well remembered from a previous encounter. Her face was unlined and unpainted but certainly not unattractive. Her hair, braided and plaited and bound round her head, was grey. She wore a summer frock of a medium blue that revealed a surprisingly trim figure underneath. Her shoes were practical rather than beautiful, with low broad mannish heels, and -- as before -- her eyes were screwed tight so that she did not see the diviner's twig she held before her as she walked. "Water -- big water -- deep water..."

In a moment she would start to trip over them, so Gift or no Gift she had to be stopped. Mine, with the others' unspoken but unanimous instant assent, performed the honours. "Stop -- please stop," she called.

A spasm of annoyance crossed the woman's face -- but she stopped with an abrupt jerk, opening here yes and letting her hands fall to her side as she did so.

"Have a drink," offered Owen, handing up a half-full bottle of cool beer.

The woman's eyes widened, and she smiled. "Gracious," she said. "We have met before. Tackton Chase." She named a date. "I remember you very well indeed -- you were fittingly called the hospitable ones. Have you milk, perhaps?"

Milk they had -- equally cool. Mine located a clean mug, Cynthia poured it full and handed it up to the woman who accepted it gratefully, with a ritual murmur. She drained it almost at a gulp, so without a word Cynthia gave her a refill and she almost drained that too. There was still some in the bottom, however, as she handed the mug back the second time.

"Thank you once again," she said. "It must be fate -- unless you are of the order of water-elementals, sent to succour me in my perplexity."

Nobody was quite sure what to say next. Mine, as spokeswoman, began somewhat hesitantly. "How -- how is -- the Gift?"

"I have it," said the woman simply. "That I know. But it is so very difficult -- so very, very difficult."

"But -- surely..." began Mine again. Dave, however, cut in:

"You lack the full revelation of your talents still, then?"

"Unfortunately I do. I know not why -- one many not know, one may only accept. But still I keep trying. I thought that if today I was to come to the river herself, she might show me what I have. But something always intervenes."

Mine had collected her thoughts somewhat. "You mean --" she said "-- that you have all this time been trying bigger and bigger bodies of water?"

"In essence, yes," replied the woman. "If necessary I will try the Sea himself. But not in fact all this time. I have tried other things too."

Everybody looked quietly attentive.

"I became a medium," said the woman.

Everybody continued to look quietly attentive, so she elaborated. "I have conducted seances. I have the full medium's potential -- I know it. I have a spirit guide -- an Indian from Tibet."

"And your mediumship is, I hope, attended with more success than is your divination by wood?" asked Mine.

"Unfortunately, no. I also have an Opponent, who blockades me from my Indian. Every seance I took was a complete fiasco. So I had to quit."

Up to this point, the conversation had been conducted on an entirely serious level. Now, however, smiles had to be repressed with an effort. Mine swallowed hard, and turned a bland face up to the woman. "I am sorry," she said. "We all are."

"More was to come," the woman continued unexpectedly. "I bought a tarot pack and studied fortune-telling. And there, I foretold correctly precisely one half of what I attempted. No -- you may smile, but it is not that simple -- and" (severely) "nor am I. Whenever I told a future event from the cards, I knew within myself that the cards lied. But only half the time they lied. The other half, my inner voice lied. A lady friend of mine was big with child, and I with the cards foretold twin boys. But I knew -- I just knew -- that she would have one of each." She paused dramatically for a moment. "She had the twin boys. Then I attempted to foretell the result of the Thisbury by-election last winter. I myself do not dwell in the constituency, so I could not be swayed by self-interest. The cards said that Socialist would get in. But I knew that the Conservative would win again. And so he did."

That, nobody could help but reflect, was hardly a fair test. However, the woman hadn't finished yet. "Then the cards foretold snow on polling-day. I knew there would be none. There was none."

There seemed to be a loose end here, and Mine seized on it. "So you have precog -- that is, precognition, too? And have you tried it without the cards, on its own?"

"Without the cards, my dear, I have no precognition. It is both or neither -- but since I cannot tell which is right, it has so far been quite futile."

"How very frustrating," Cynthia murmured.

"Indeed it is. If it would not cause me to lose karma, I would frequently be most aggravated. Most. But I know I have the Gifts. They run in the family. My great-grandmother, on my dear father's side, had them too. I know this, because she has told me about them in dreams."

Bart spoke up at this. "Sort of Mendel telepathy?" he enquired slyly.

The woman completely missed the dig, however. "That's exactly it!" she exclaimed. "Mental telepathy! It's all part of it. It all fits together -- somehow. There must be a Pattern. If only -- if only I could discern just one little corner of it!"

"But perhaps you can," said Mine. "On two occasions now, you have been approaching water but have been stopped by us. Supposing you were to go back into the woods a few yards and try again? We won't interrupt this time -- unless you're actually in danger of falling in."

The woman smiled at Mine. "You have my sympathy, my dear. I will do that." And turning sharp about as she stood, she strode off back into the shadows.

"That's a bit cruel, isn't it?" Owen muttered. "Tantalising the poor old girl like that."

"No more so than it would have been if we hadn't been here at all," Mine muttered back. "It's what she wants, I think. Look out -- here she comes."

The woman was mumbling under her breath now -- they were unable to catch the words. Her eyes were tight shut again. The sunbeams, still like the draught from a furnace, poured full-strength on to the sparkling water and slopped over on to the bank, to be lost under the thick foliage. Everybody moved aside as she came. The light shone full on her slowly-moving legs, and then on the outstretched twig. Would it drop, at the critical moment? They held their collective breath. The twig quivered. Quivered -- and moved. And all of a sudden it was pointing not downwards, but upwards.

And the next instant the thundercloud, which had crept up unseen behind the trees, burst right overhead and in a trice everybody was drenched to the skin.


It was maybe an hour later. The worst of the storm had passed, and only a light drizzle remained. Still, there was a goodly stretch of river to be negotiated ere nightfall, and the boat with its six sodden occupants proceeded downstream as rapidly as Bert and Owen could move it. Ian was crammed into the stern seat with Cynthia -- and for once didn't feel particularly like making the most of his opportunities. Dave and Mine were located at the sharp end.

"I've been thinking, Mine," said Dave.


"You're right, you know. Women are the superior sex."

Mine walked right into it. "And what, may I ask," she queried innocently, "has caused you to see the light?"

"Because only a woman could be like that and get away with it."

Mine took a deep breath.

"Now only a man," she said slowly, "could possibly make a remark like that."

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